BAYOU OF PIGS
By Stewart Bell
John Wiley & Sons, $24.95,
REVIEWED BY JOHN WEISMAN
In March 1979, Grenada‘s prime minister, Eric Gairy, flew to New York for meetings at the United Nations. In his absence, a London-trained Grenadian lawyer named Maurice Bishop, “six feet, three inches tall with a big smile and big ideas, part of the generation of students deeply moved by Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution,” staged a coup. Mr. Bishop and his left-wing ‘revos’ took over the Caribbean island and invited Fidel Castro to support him.
In May of that same year, a ne’er-do-well former Marine, white supremacist, and staunch anti-communist named Mike Perdue saw an article in a news magazine about the Grenada coup and learned that the ousted president was seeking arms and foreign mercenaries to take the island back from Marxists. Mr. Perdue, who often bragged about his battlefield experience in Vietnam and other conflicts, decided he was the right man for the job.
Mr. Perdue flew to San Diego, where Mr. Gairy was staying. The former PM was “noncommittal, and neither accepted nor declined the proposition, but Perdue sensed that Gairy was interested, and that was good enough.”
To raise money for the coup, Mr. Perdue sought out former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke, who “gave Perdue a few names and numbers to get him started. One of them was in Canada … and it belonged to a man named Donald Clarke Andrews.”
Don Andrews, a virulent anticommunist, had been the leader of a white supremacist group called the Western Guard. “Its mission was to ‘preserve and promote the basic social and spiritual values of White People.’” Jailed for neo-Nazi activities in 1978, Mr. Andrews subsequently founded another pro-Aryan organization, the Nationalist Party of Canada.
Mr. Andrews was familiar with Grenada’s neighboring island of Dominica, where he had considered some business investments. He suggested to Mike Perdue that Dominica might make a good staging area for Mr. Perdue’s Grenada coup.
It made sense to Mr. Purdue. Dominica was small, poor, and remote. Dominica “was all mountains and rivers. Before Columbus had named it after the Christian holy day, its name was Waitikubuli, which means tall is her body. Legend has it that when Columbus returned to Spain and described Dominica, he crumpled a sheet of paper and threw it on the table.”
The Island was in ruins. It had been devastated by Hurricane David in August 1979. It was plagued by Rastafarian violence: A group of hardcore Rasta known as Dreads, who kidnapped young girls, terrorized farmers and attacked whites.
Best of all, so far as Mr. Perdue and his partner, Wolfgang Droege, were concerned, Dominica was politically unstable and unlike Grenada, which was receiving military assistance, financial support and foreign aid from Fidel Castro, there was something of a power vacuum on the poor island.
Dominica’s pint-sized, left-leaning former prime minister, Patrick John, had been thrown out for corruption. A 5-foot-1 populist known for his firebrand speeches, Mr. John detested Eugenia Charles, his right-wing, pro-American successor. Mr. John wanted his power back. Badly enough to grab it by force.
In September 1980, Mr. Purdue and Mr. John agreed on a letter of intent stating that Mr. John agreed with Mr. Purdue’s goal of financing and mounting Operation Red Dog, a coup to bring Patrick John back to power. The coup “forged some odd alliances. [It] united right-wing North Americans and Caribbean leftists, white nationalists and black revolutionaries; First World capitalists and Third World Socialists.”
This, basically, is the back story of “Bayou of Pigs,” Canadian writer Stewart Bell’s engaging and often incredible account of how a con man-soldier of fortune attempted to use the political ambition of a corrupt former prime minister to take over a Caribbean island and turn it into his own personal criminal enterprise. Mr. Bell’s previous work includes “Cold Terror: How Canada Nurtures and Exports Terrorism Around the World” and “The Martyr’s Oath,” his well received 2005 book about how Canadian immigrant Mohammed Jabarah became an al Qaeda operative.
The characters in “Bayou of Pigs” could have been cast in Hollywood. There is Mike Perdue, the con man who believed in nothing at all except getting rich, who sans any real military or intelligence experience delivered enough winks and nods to convince many of the coup’s financers that he actually represented the U.S. government. There is his partner in crime Wolfgang Droege, bearded, wispy-haired, “barrel-chested and short, even in the thick-soled shoes he wore to gain a few extra inches.” Mr. Droege, a German-Canadian high-school dropout, harbored Nazi sympathies and loved guns. In Dominica, their allies include Maj. Frederick Newton and Capt. Malcolm Reid, the heads of the Dominican Defense Force or DDF which, unlike Dominica’s police, largely remained loyal to Patrick John.
There’s also Charles Yanover, who ran a nightclub in Toronto, sold motorcycles to outlaw biker gangs, guns to white supremacists and worked as an enforcer for a Canadian mob boss named Paul Volpe. Mr. Yanover, one of the more sophisticated characters in this “Gang that couldn´t Shoot Straight” story, actually manages to scam the scammers. And then there are the losers recruited by Messrs Purdue and Droege. “They were misfits every one of them, rejected by society because of their outdated views on race. They had money troubles, troubles with the law. What Dominica offered them was a chance to get away from all that, to live a fantasy. They weren’t liberating Dominica from communists. They were liberating themselves.”
The plot is infiltrated almost from the get-go by a couple of quick-thinking U.S. Feds - ATF agents John Osburg and Wally Grafton - who worked out of ATF’s New Orleans office. The ATF had been brought in by a former soldier turned charter-boat captain named Mike Howell, whose boat Mr. Purdue wanted to hire to transport the Red Dog mercs to Dominica. During an operational planning meeting, one of Agent Osburg’s ATF colleagues said that Red Dog was “like the Bay of Pigs.”
“More like the Bayou of Pigs,” another agent cracked.
“The name stuck. Even in the classified criminal enforcement reports that Osburg had to type up, the case was from then on referred to as ‘the Bayou of Pigs investigation.’”
Extensively researched and well-written, Mr. Bell’s fascinating account of this coup gone wrong provides a fascinating footnote to another Caribbean adventure in the 1980s: The U.S. invasion of Grenada. Because it was Patrick John’s political rival and successor, Dominica’s Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, who as spokesperson for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, or OECS, invited the United States to help OECS confront the Cuban and communist-influenced Marxist “threat to peace and security in the region.”
The result, of course, was Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada, which threw the ‘revos’ out, ended Cuba’s penetration of the island, and brought stability back to the Eastern Caribbean. So in the end, ousted Grenadian Prime Minister Eric Gairy did get regime change. But it wasn’t the regime change Mr. Gairy had wanted.
• John Weisman’s most recent CIA novels, “Jack in the Box” and “Direct Action,” can be found as Avon Books paperbacks. He can be reached at email@example.com
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